“Hey, why don’t you go for a plog?”
That’s not an insult. It’s a suggestion for a new way of running that erases others’ ecological footprints by removing trash.
International news outlets recently reported that the U.S. is slowly picking up on Sweden’s “latest fitness craze,” plogging. Plog, or plogging, is a term that mishmashes the Swedish term “plocka upp” — to pick up — with jogging.
The Washington Post reported in February that the practice among Sweden’s running communities was gaining international traction. Basically, people run while clutching a plastic bag for litter. Rubber gloves are a good idea. Plogging is not only good for the environment; practitioners say plogging also affords extra exercise because they end up doing lunges and squats to reach each piece of rubbish.
Some Bend runners are perplexed by the plogging trend. They’ve always picked up garbage along roads and trails as a matter of course. The Central Oregon Running Klub has picked up garbage since it was founded in 1976. When Peter Hatton, the nonprofit’s treasurer, heard of plogging in a recent Runner’s World article, his initial thought was area runners “just do that on our own,” he said.
Hatton often runs through Juniper Ridge, a large industrial zone in northeast Bend. The area is often strewn with food packaging, plastic bottles and old clothing. Hatton often stops to pick them up on his runs. CORK collects trash along the 2-mile stretch of the Deschutes River Trail that it maintains.
While the path receives about 100 hours of volunteer hours each year, Hatton has found some of the more far-flung garbage in the Deschutes National Forest on a trail near Tumalo Falls. There, Hatton and some running partners found an electric coffeemaker and fan.
“We traded carrying them back and forth for 3 or 4 miles,” Hatton said. “Finding them out there seemed odd, and we wanted to show off what we found in the middle of the forest given that there wasn’t a nearby extension cord.”
As for formal plogging, Hatton said the organization has been putting out feelers among its approximately 120 members. They’re interested.
“We haven’t done anything like this yet, but we’d like to have a CORK event to pick up trash,” said Hatton. “Trash is an eyesore for the general public.”
Picking up globally
The hashtag #plogging has a modest following on social media. On Instagram, more than 2,000 posts feature smiling runners holding trash bags and cradling bits of rubbish with rubber gloves. The garbage featured a bent butter knife, a stray running shoe, bottles and cigarette butts.
Social media users in places as diverse as San Antonio, Hoboken in New Jersey, the United Kingdom, Germany and Malaysia all use hashtags to index their #plogging jaunts.
Sweden-based health app Lifesum, which counts 25 million global users, is the first one to allow users to track plogging in addition to dozens of exercise activities, the company said. Lifesum measures consumed calories against those burned through exercise. The app assigns a slightly higher caloric-burn count for plogging than it does for jogging.
Still, for many the appeal of plogging is about keeping nature and our communities trim, tidy and free of debris.
“Litter impacts our quality of life and economic development,” Mike Rosen, the senior vice president at nonprofit Keep America Beautiful, said in a press release. “Plogging is brilliant because it is simple and fun, while empowering everyone to help create cleaner, greener and more beautiful communities.”
Picking up locally
Professional runner Max King, however, finds the plogging phenomenon bemusing. After all, picking up litter is what the Bendite and his friends have always done while on runs.
“I’ve never heard (picking up garbage) called anything officially. It’s kind of funny that somebody decided to name it. … Leave it to the Swedes,” he said with a chuckle. “I think most trail runners unofficially do this most of the time. I know I pick up trash when I see it out running. We just stuff it in our packs. We don’t necessarily travel out there with trash bags. For trail runners, it’s our duty as stewards of the trails to just pick up.”
King, 38, said he’ll pick up most anything on the trails, barring used toilet paper, for example. He’s organized trail work parties — whose trash-hauling capabilities benefit from a truck parked at the border of the Three Sisters Wilderness — where they have cleared items like tires, beer cans and bullet casings.
Michelle Poirot, the marketing, events and training group coordinator at FootZone Bend, thinks plogging has potential. She recently learned about the concept when a friend tagged her on a plogging video on Facebook. Poirot likes the concept, although she’s unsure about its name.
“The word plogging strikes me as being temporal,” Poirot said. “Whether the name or the fad of (plogging) sticks around, I think runners and a lot of the folks who love the outdoors in Bend are sensitive to what their environment looks like. They’re willing to volunteer their time and take a little bit of extra care for the place they love.”
While FootZone hasn’t had anything particularly tailored to trash pick-up in the past, Poirot said runners are typically already clued into the environment, pointing out that several local 5K races are fundraisers for environmental causes, such as The Dirty Half and the Salmon Run.
“And certainly, if runners see trash on their favorite routes and trails, they’re pretty inclined to pick it up,” Poirot said.
Organizing a run dedicated to plogging is an idea Poirot had intended to float by FootZone owner Teague Hatfield. At the very least, leaders of FootZone’s group runs may make picking up trash a frequent mention before heading out. Most trails or paved routes that Poirot runs on are in decent shape because they are also maintained by nonprofits such as the Central Oregon Trail Alliance — a mountain bike trail maintenance group — or Central Oregon Running Klub.
“It’s important to get it in the right place, particularly plastic. Once an environment is dirty, people are less inclined to take care of it,” Poirot said.
Hatton also subscribes to the broken windows theory of litter policing.
“Garbage is an eyesore for the general public,” he said. “If people see a trashy or dirty area, … it tends to attract more trash. If we can keep the trails pristine, it helps people to keep it that way.”
Sprinkling correctly done lunges throughout a run can’t hurt — until it does. When picking up anything, King recommends using muscles in your legs and not in your back.
“Keep your back straight like you’re doing squats,” he said. “It becomes a bit more important when you’ve been out on a run because you’ve been moving for a couple hours, you’re tired, you can actually throw your back out a lot easier. You’re also a long way from any kind of (medical) help, so making sure you’re doing things in a way that is not going to injure yourself is important.”
While King still rolls his eyes at the term plogging, he’s enthusiastic for what he hopes becomes a permanent movement.
“Just pick up your trash, man,” King said with a laugh. “We don’t need a particular name for it. Just do it.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, firstname.lastname@example.org